Over-trusting as a biological disorder

Trust is a fundamental human characteristic. It is necessary for people to function in social groups, and it forms the foundation for many of our organizations and relationships. We have developed a keen sense of trust, and we teach our children when to trust and when not to trust. This article describes how this trust sense has a biological basis, a basis that can sometimes go wrong.


When tested, Ms. X is impulsive, socially fearless, and terrible at “reading” people. More to the point, she does not change her behavior as she interacts with different people: friends and strangers, old and young, kindly or malicious, all are treated as intimates. Unfortunately, this means that Ms. X is often a target for predation. She has lost significant amounts of money to those she trusted that she should not have.

Ms. X has a rare genetic disorder that has damaged a single structure in her brain. If you were to meet her, she would appear at first as “normal” as any one of us. Yet, she cannot do what most of do quickly and effortlessly: assess the moral character of those we meet.

One thought on “Over-trusting as a biological disorder

  1. jason Nolan

    I’m always watching for this sort of stuff because i have an impaired social mechanism (with MRIs to prove it ;). I find this whole trust thing strange. I casually say that I trust anyone and anything, but will not make decisions based on ‘trust’. It is better to have a contingent trusting heuristic where one can watch for signs of internal validity in terms of someone’s actions… how do they act in terms of themselves. That’s a better metric, imho, because I can say that action x will benefit me and this person, and this person always acts to benefit themselves (and who ever else is part of the action), so I can trust that they will act in their own best interests. Voila, I can give them whatever, and know that things will turn out as expected. I think this has served me better than people who live with the fictional delusion that they can assess moral character. Neat post.

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